The art of negotiation

Negotiation often brings to mind complex transactions like selling a house or legal matters like settling a divorce or dissolving a business partnership. Even negotiating something as seemingly simple as buying a car can conjure up images of conflict. Well, there is good news when it comes to negotiating a locum tenens contract. In fact, the process is so straightforward that it usually requires very little negotiation. This is because all of the parties involved want the same thing - a qualified physician to take care of patients on a temporary basis.

The recruiter responsible for matching a doctor with a particular opportunity wants to do a good job for both the client facility or practice and for the doctor. On the one hand, the hospital or clinic has a need to fill; whereas the locum tenens physician wants to practice in a setting and geographic location that will be professionally and personally rewarding. When three motivated parties have a vested interest in seeing "the deal" come to fruition, negotiation really comes down to engaging in open, honest communication that satisfies everyone's needs.

From the doctor's point of view, the major discussion points when deciding on a temporary engagement are location, pay rate, length of the opportunity, the call schedule, and travel and housing accommodations. The location is largely a given—you either want to go to a certain place or you do not—although there can be locations of interest you may not have thought of, so it is usually worth at least considering alternatives. The length of a contract is typically fixed, though there may be options in this area, depending on the situation. For example, if a hospital needs a physician for a longer engagement—say, 6 months—you might be able to negotiate a contract for 3 of those 6 months, with another locum tenens provider offering coverage for the remainder of the time.

Pay rates are sometimes negotiable, depending on the locum tenens agency you work with, how much flexibility representatives have with their clients (who are ultimately footing the bill), and the desirability of the opportunity. If you are considering an en-gagement in an area of the country where it is typically difficult to place physicians, you may be able to negotiate a somewhat higher pay rate than if you are considering a placement in a resort town or trendy metropolitan area.

Details of the call schedule also may be up for discussion. But this is an area where you might want to remain flexible, especially if you plan to negotiate other points—such as the pay rate or type of housing you want.

Locum tenens recruiters say that physicians most often negotiate practical issues like travel and accommodations. As you consider a locum tenens opportunity, think about your most important priorities and bring those up with your recruiter as soon as possible. For instance, if you want to stay in a condo rather than in a hotel, or if you need to bring your pet with you, let them know up front. Does your spouse plan to accompany you to a location? Then, factor that into your requests early on. And if you are 6'4" and need to fly first class and rent a large car, let that be known from the start. Negotiations become more difficult when last-minute requests are put on the table.

Follow these common sense guidelines to enjoy all the benefits that locum tenens opportunities have to offer:

  1. Review your contracts and letters of agreement carefully. If you do not understand something, ask your recruiter for clarification. Your representative's job is to help you be fully informed and comfortable with the agreement you sign.
  2. Do not be afraid to ask for what you need and want.
  3. Negotiate your most important points first, and be flexible on less critical ones. Having successfully negotiated to take your loved ones or pets with you might make one extra night of call seem like a small matter.
  4. Be open and honest in all your communication and insist that everyone else do the same.
  5. Remember that while a specific assignment may be short, the relationship you have with your recruiter will hopefully be long-standing.

Views and opinions expressed herein are those of NALTO and not necessarily those of Advanstar Communications Inc. or LocumLife.

About the Author

Karen Childress is a Colorado-based freelance healthcare writer currently crafting a series of articles on behalf of NALTO.

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